By Jane F. Carter, PhD.
At a time when many schools are looking for quick fixes for student performance, the Cape York Australian Aboriginal Academy (CYAAA) schools, located in the far northern part of the country, stand out as shining exceptions. This organization, developed for the specific mission of serving underserved Aboriginal populations, has dedicated itself to achieving excellence by using Direct Instruction (DI) in its four schools.
Three years ago, CYAAA embarked on a unique mission to develop an exceptional teaching force able to implement the rigorous DI programs with fidelity on all four of their campuses. The National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI) has been their partner from the beginning. Through years of intensive training provided by NIFDI, a passion for DI has been established in these schools and a teaching staff dedicated to fidelity of the programs is growing strong.
With NIFDI’s assistance, the leadership at CYAAA has also increased internal capacity to sustain rigorous training and support using their own teacher-leaders. In Australia, the need for building capacity is particularly important because of the remote location for a couple of reasons. First, there aren’t coaches nearby. The nearest coach is in Melbourne – thousands of miles away. Second, living and working in remote communities results in a high rate of teacher turnover (with, of course, the exception of a very small minority who find it their calling and have the mission engrained in who they are and what they do.) Without local capacity, schools would be perpetually dependent on NIFDI or other support providers, which can eventually become cost prohibitive.
Schuyler Elementary – Schuyler, NE
Students at Schuyler Elementary, a school in Eastern Nebraska with a large Hispanic population, have demonstrated incredible improvements in academic achievement over the past few years. In 2009-10, less than half (44%) of Schuyler’s third graders met the state standards as measured by the Nebraska State Assessment (NeSA), and only three students exceeded the state standards. In 2010-11, 67% of Schuyler’s third graders achieved passing scores, with eight percent of the students exceeding the state standards. The following year (2011-12), Schuyler experienced another improvement in student performance when 86% of students passed the NeSA – 10% higher than the average state performance (see Figure 1).
Mt. Carmel Elementary – Mt. Carmel, IL
Schools everywhere are faced with high academic standards and are charged with evaluating programs and practices to find which ones will yield the best possible results for their students. They must determine which curriculum to implement in their districts and schools, a decision that becomes more difficult in the face of high expectations and low budgets. Is it worth spending the money on a different program? Will the extra expenditure generate different results? These questions plagued a school in Illinois who called in researchers to help answer them. School leaders asked researchers to compare the effectiveness of the program they had been using for the past eight years, Scott Foresman’s Celebrate Reading, with another program they were considering for adoption, Reading Mastery.
IDEA Public Schools – Texas
With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), schools across the nation were charged with ensuring students of all backgrounds and abilities were provided with an equal opportunity to access a successful educational experience. The importance of this is universally accepted, but the process of safeguarding this varies and accurate referrals to special programs can be seemingly impossible. IDEA Public Schools (no relation to the IDEA Act) in the Rio Grande Valley and Central Texas has witnessed the value of implementing a highly effective instructional program, Direct Instruction (DI), and routine data analysis.
During the 2010-11 school year, 114 students at IDEA Public Schools were considered for Special Education services. Of those, only 83 students, or 73%, qualified under the federal regulations for identifying students for services. The following year, 2011-12, IDEA Public Schools began implementing Direct Instruction programs in their schools. What they found was that through in-program data they collected each day and analyzed weekly with the help of a consultant from the National Institute for Direct Instruction, they had a considerably better grasp on students’ current skill levels and were able to meet students at their instructional level. With this information, they were able to accurately identify students who may qualify. IDEA reduced the number of students considered for Special Education to 27 -- a 76% decrease in referrals -- and found that they were far more accurate in the students they identified as having a suspected learning disability. Every student the school referred qualified for Special Education.
City Springs School – Baltimore, MD
City Springs School located in Baltimore, Maryland is a high-poverty school with a student population that is 99% African American. The school, a K-8 campus, had a history of low performance. Only 33% of 7th grade students met or exceeded the benchmark standards on the Maryland State Assessment (MSA) exam in 2004-05. This means two out of every three children were failing!
Through the implementation of Direct Instruction with NIFDI support, City Springs has made extraordinary gains in student achievement. The school's teaching staff were trained on critical aspects of the program, including student assessment, program delivery and adjusting instruction to react to individual students' needs. Through NIFDI’s coaches training model, the school’s leadership team developed the skills necessary to effectively lead a full-immersion DI implementation. As a result, the percentage of 7th graders meeting or exceeding the state benchmark more than doubled, from 33% to 79% (see Figure 1).